Sununu, Van Ostern, face off over Dartmouth Hitchcock contract at Executive Council meeting
STRAFFORD – Republican Chris Sununu and Democrat Colin Van Ostern clashed over the state’s controversial $36.5 million contract with Dartmouth Hitchcock to run the state’s psychiatric hospital as the gubernatorial nominees and fellow executive councilors took part in the first council meeting since both men won their primary contests last week.
The meeting by the council was its first since Dartmouth Hitchcock announced that it would lay off hundreds of employees by the end of the year. That announcement from the medical provider came just two days after all five councilors voted two weeks ago to approve the three-year contract with Dartmouth Hitchcock, which was the only bidder to take over operations of New Hampshire Hospital in Concord. That vote came amid rising concerns of staffing shortages at the facility.
Sununu, questioning state Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeff Myers, called for the contract to be re-bid, adding “I don’t believe we have done our job as a state to make sure we have choices.”
“One of the biggest concerns we all expressed was the transparency, being forthcoming with information, given all the different issues,” Sununu said. “We are not talking about one or two red flags. We are talking about numerous issues that are going on. It seems every week something else pops up with this group.”
But Myers disagreed with the idea of re-bidding the contract, saying “I opened this up, and we still only got one bidder.”
Meyers explained that his department reached out to other facilities in neighboring states.
“We made an effort to publicize this. If we put this out again today, I question whether there would be more than one bidder,” he added.
Van Ostern urged the council to take a wait and see approach.
“If they are not meeting the terms of the contract today or in the future we need to be prepared with alternatives to ensure that patients are getting the best care they can receive,” Van Ostern said.
The council took no action on Sununu’s recommendation to re-bid the contract.
Dartmouth-Hitchcock CEO Dr. James Weinstein met with Gov. Maggie Hassan and the councilors at a breakfast meeting earlier in the morning, where he apologized for not informing the council of the pending layoffs as they debated the contract two weeks ago. He said he didn’t think the information, which sparked outrage and raised questions whether Dartmouth Hitchcock was up to providing mental health care at the hospital, was relevant.
Weinstein said that Dartmouth-Hitchcock would provide weekly staffing level updates at the state hospital, which would be made public.